Jesus Said “Deny Yourself,” Not “Love Yourself”

Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. |Matthew 16:24|

In the western church we have an issue. The faith is becoming diluted with a bunch of secular ideology that can’t be found in the Bible. One of these worldly ideas which has been introduced into the church is the idea of self-love.

I can’t tell you how many Christian YouTube videos, blog posts, and Instagram captions I’ve seen that talk about loving yourself. Self-love, self-care, self-confidence… self-absorption, really. All of it ends up looking like a recycled, Christianized version of what I hear non-Christian feminists talking about.

I’m going to be really honest right now: I’m tired of a lot of Christian blogs for young women. Why? Because they’re often shallow and avoid any issues that might spark any controversy. They focus on things like relationships and body confidence, but never address real spiritual issues. They’re all about feeling good and looking for happiness.

So basically these blogs are just a Christian version of Seventeen magazine. They may be motivational and inspirational, but very rarely are they convicting or even biblical. They are full of emotion but lack substance and biblical truth. And they often go along with the trends and ideologies of secular culture. An example of this is the self-love bandwagon.

I know some of you are already getting annoyed with this post. You’re probably thinking that I’m really critical and negative and hate myself and think everyone else should hate themselves. But this isn’t what I’m getting at.

It is true that if you hate yourself then you can’t love other people. But being secure in your identity doesn’t come from trying to muster up a weirdly narcissistic fondness for yourself born out of an unhealthy sense of individualism. It comes from understanding God’s love for you and knowing your inherent God-given worth.

The Bible never actually says to love yourself. People often take the verse “love others as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31) and think, Ooh, Jesus was promoting self-love. But this is a questionable interpretation to say the least. When saying this, Jesus was speaking to the fact that it’s human nature to put yourself first and serve your own needs before other people’s. We all love ourselves to a certain extent, and we are all narcissistic to a certain extent. So by saying that we should love others as we love ourselves, He was saying we should put others first like we naturally want to put ourselves first.

It’s interesting how Jesus says “as you love yourself” as if He assumes we already love ourselves. He doesn’t command us to do this because it’s kind of a given that we already do.

Now I think that when reading this verse, we can also assume that it’s not good to hate yourself. But the kind of self-acceptance seen in the Bible is nothing like how we think of self-love today.

The secular idea of self-love sounds like kind of a joke when you contrast it with the self-denial that Jesus spoke of. Worldly self-love is narcissistic and self-focused. It says you should put yourself before others as you are the most important person in your life. It tells you to rely on yourself and your own warped thoughts and emotions rather than God’s truth. It says you should have confidence in yourself. It says you should think about yourself all the time.

It’s interesting, because in 2 Timothy 3:2, when Paul was talking about how people would be in the last days, he said they would be “lovers of themselves.” And that’s not a compliment. In this context, he spoke of this as if it was sinful and demonic. Being a lover of yourself certainly doesn’t sound like a good thing, yet nowadays we’ve turned it into this great thing that we aspire to do.

It’s funny when you think about it. The word selfless has always been a compliment. People who always talk about themselves in a positive way or compliment themselves are often seen as kind of annoying and narcissistic, yet today we’re told to sit around complimenting ourselves. In America in particular, bragging about yourself is often seen as a good thing.

From a biblical perspective, it’s good to be so fixated on God and others that you forget about yourself. Yet the idea of self-love suggests that self-absorption is a good thing.

Today’s culture is all about the self. People are so obsessed with loving themselves and “finding themselves” that they’ll go to all sorts of crazy lengths to fulfill their own desires. Today we’re told that we should do whatever we think will make us happy regardless of the consequences or the moral implications. We’re told that if something makes us happy, it can’t be wrong. We’re told that we should accept and love ourselves no matter what and that we should never feel guilty about following our own desires.

There’s a reason the Bible doesn’t talk about loving yourself. That’s because as humans we’re already inherently narcissistic, and we actually need to recognize the fact that we’re really not okay as we are. If we’re told to love ourselves just as we are, we’ll think that we can carry on living however we want. If we’re told not to feel guilty about our sins, we won’t feel the need to repent because we’ll think we’re great just as we are. But that’s a massive lie. We have to see our wretchedness in order to truly repent and change.

Maybe the real freedom and security comes not from seeing how lovable we are, but rather from seeing that we’re not very lovable at all, yet God still loves us. We’re all naturally kind of horrible people when it comes to it. We’re selfish and rebellious and have deceitful hearts. We cheat on God with worthless idols. Yet Jesus still died for us. And once you see His love for you, then you can become the person He created you to be, and you’ll realize that you are His child whom He loves dearly.

Maybe the real freedom and security comes not from seeing how lovable we are, but rather from seeing that we_re not very lovab

We were never created to be self-focused. Self-absorption kills us spiritually. Most of us don’t need to love ourselves more; we need to love God and others more, just like Jesus commanded.

In this day and age we’re already insanely narcissistic and self-focused. We even have our own profiles online that are literally all about us. We’re essentially selling ourselves like a brand. We spend way too much time thinking about our “aesthetic” or how we’re coming across to other people and very little time thinking about our souls and how we’re treating others, or if we’re really loving God.

Narcissism is the norm. Self-denial is extremely rare. Telling an already selfish and narcissistic generation to focus on themselves even more is not solving the problem.

I think when it comes to it, most of us love ourselves too much. Even people who are depressed and engage in self-harm are too self-focused. Any type of self-absorption is narcissistic and selfish, even if it’s negative. So telling people to merely obsess over themselves in a different way isn’t really solving the problem. What people need to do is look upward and outward. Selflessness is what God’s word clearly calls us to.

A lot of the feelings of guilt and shame that many people experience and attempt to counter with self-love are the result of our own sinful nature and inherent selfishness. According to Jesus, our hearts are full of immorality, and we’re all pretty messed up. None of us are “good” people. So trying to love yourself apart from your identity in Christ really won’t solve the problem, and it definitely won’t help you die to yourself.

When we live with a self-focused mindset, we can’t be content. We were created to put others’ needs before our own, just like Jesus did. I can say from personal experience that the times in my life when I’ve had the most joy and peace were the times that I stopped focusing on myself and put others first. The only times in my life I’ve felt secure in my own identity and haven’t been filled with self-loathing is when I’ve looked upward and outward. This is what the Bible teaches, and this is how we truly thrive.

Honestly, apart from God I don’t like myself very much. I’m actually not naturally a very nice person. If I try to think about how great I am just as I am without God changing me, there’s not much to rave about. But when I understand God’s love for me and listen to what He has to say about my identity in Him, I actually quite like who He says I am. But the person He created me to be is selfless and meek, not self-confident and self-consumed.

One of the dangers of the self-love trend is that it encourages you to rely on yourself, when we should rely on God. We should only care about what God thinks about us, not even what we think about ourselves.

As Christians, we are supposed to get over ourselves. We have to come to the end of ourselves, not focus on ourselves even more. What was Satan’s issue? He wanted all the glory and attention, and he was focused on himself rather than on God. Do we really want to engage in self-worship, the very thing the enemy was kicked out of heaven for?

Throughout the New Testament, we are told to put others before ourselves. Lately I’ve been so surprised when reading through the epistles, because they talk about selflessness so much. When you read the New Testament, you realize that putting others before yourself is so clearly God’s will. And you don’t see a single thing about self-love.

For narcissistic millennials (and let’s be honest, every other generation too), the thought of putting others above ourselves is foreign and bizarre. We’re told to focus on ourselves. We’re told to have confidence in ourselves. We’re told to love ourselves. But the Bible tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, to put our confidence in God, and to love God and love others.

If we’re honest, a lot of this self-love stuff comes from secular feminist culture and mainstream media. It doesn’t have a biblical basis. Yet Christians everywhere are adopting the view that self-love is this wonderful thing that we should preach about, when God calls us to preach the gospel.

If self-love was something that God wanted us to focus on, wouldn’t there be some mention of it in His word? But all we have are Jesus’ words in Matthew and Mark interpreted in a rather questionable way. It’s funny, because when Christians talk about self-love, they very rarely back up their points with scripture. Because there aren’t actually any verses that reinforce this idea.

In order to have a healthy view of ourselves, we simply need to understand and accept God’s love for us and understand our identities in Him (that is if we have repented and are truly in Christ). That’s all.

The ironic thing is that when we obsess over ourselves, it’s impossible to have a healthy view of ourselves. I can say from experience that whenever I’ve focused on self-confidence and self-love, I’ve often felt more insecure. Because these are empty, worldly ideas that only encourage us to rely on ourselves rather than God.

Don’t adopt the empty ideologies of the world. They won’t deliver. Self-hatred is bad. But you’re not going to have a healthy view of yourself by focusing on loving yourself.

Our love is broken and weak. If you try to love yourself, you’ll probably fail, just like you often fail loving others well. Your own feelings aren’t reliable, and neither is your flawed idea of love. On the other hand, if you rely on the perfect and unfailing love of God, then you’ll find security.

When we love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and love others as Jesus tells us to, along with remembering God’s incredible love for us, we will have a true, lasting security in our identities in Christ. Trying to muster up some weird, narcissistic self-love won’t grant you that.

The Father’s love is way more powerful than your own pathetic attempts at loving yourself are. His love is what will give you security and help you to see yourself how He does.

If you want to feel confident, instead of posting a selfie or complimenting yourself, try spending time with God or doing something thoughtful for others. If you hate yourself or feel insecure and inadequate, instead of trying to love yourself more, just pray that God will overwhelm you with a sense of His love. Because His love is what changes us, and it’s what anchors us when our own feeble efforts fail.

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I highly recommend the book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller, as it talks all about this selfless confidence described in the Bible.


Bible verses about selflessness:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. |Matthew 23:11-12|

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all. |Mark 9:35|

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. |Luke 14:11|

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. |Romans 12:3|

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. |Romans 12:10|

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. |1 Corinthians 10:24|

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. |Philippians 2:3-4|

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. |2 Timothy 3:1-5|

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. |James 4:10|

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. |1 Peter 5:6|

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